What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

The mind heals itself in the same way the body does. Much of this occurs during sleep, particularly during REM sleep. Francine Shapiro developed EMDR in 1987, utilizing this process in order to treat PTSD. Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat many mental health problems.

What happens when you are traumatized?

Most of the time, your body routinely manages new information and experiences outside of your awareness. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed".

Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a "raw" and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, and which is disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories.

The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present.

Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.

Who can benefit from EMDR?

EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of your past traumas and allowing you to live more fully in the present. It is not, however, appropriate for everyone.

The process is rapid, and any disturbing experiences, if they occur, last for a comparatively short period of time. Nevertheless, you need to be aware of and willing to experience the strong feelings and disturbing thoughts which sometimes occur during sessions.

Will I remain in control and feel empowered?

This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time.

During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible.

Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy. EMDR uses bi-lateral stimulation, negative cognitions, and positive cognitions in order to fulfill the treatment protocol.

Ask yourself:  How do you feel about you?  Do you have an uncomfortable memory you no longer wish to carry with you?

EMDR can be brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy program.  EMDR sessions can last from 60 to 90 minutes in length.

What is an EMDR session like?

EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of your body.

A trained therapist performs an EMDR session

A trained therapist performs an EMDR session

After a thorough assessment, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist's finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while, then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings.

With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.

What evidence is there that EMDR is a successful treatment?

EMDR is an innovative clinical treatment which has successfully helped over a million individuals. The validity and reliability of EMDR has been established by rigorous research.

There are now nineteen controlled studies into EMDR making it the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma and PTSD.

In addition to its use for the treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, EMDR has been successfully used to treat: Anxiety and panic attacks, Depression, stress, phobias, sleep problems, complicated grief, addictions, pain relief, phantom limb pain, self-esteem, body dysmorphia, performance anxiety, and many others.


Freedom’s Travails, Freedom’s Triumph

This month we celebrated the 241st anniversary of the birth of our nation.  Independence day celebrates the freedom gained not only from England in the late 1700s, but also the promise of freedom America is to the world, at large, ever since our nation’s birth.  We know that freedom isn’t free, and the steep price that has been paid over the last nearly two and a half centuries for the cause of freedom has been through much travail and sacrifice.

In our day, the struggle for freedom continues – not only for our political freedom as a nation in a world full of commotion – but for personal freedom as individuals and families.  However, the great threat to freedom often lies within.  

As a therapist at Roubicek and Thacker, I see great courage in the lives of clients struggling for freedom and independence.  Whether it is someone striving for freedom from addiction to pornography, gambling, or food or a person seeking freedom from the trauma of childhood abuse, an upbringing in an alcoholic family, or the battle with a mental illness – I find their daily efforts fighting for freedom requires as much courage and personal fortitude as those brave men and women who’ve historically battled for our nation’s liberty.  

The human soul strives to be free.  We want to be the master of our course in life.  Yes, that yearning to be free must fit within the context of important relationships in our lives such as family, friends, and community, but those systemic relations ought to enhance our personal freedom rather than stifle it.  We each have been given a great gift – the ability to choose for ourselves.  Like Thoreau, we each seek to “live deliberately” plotting out a course in our personal “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” that Jefferson so eloquently articulated in the Declaration of Independence.  Our efforts, as therapists, are to aid you in your quest for both liberty and happiness in your personal and family lives.  

Each person who gains mastery over a mental illness through the use of coping skills learned in our offices is another step forward in the pursuit of liberty. Each client that we see overcome an addiction, or find ways to live harmoniously with a spouse and other family members is a freedom fighter planting a flag of triumph in their lives after the hard-fought battle has been won.  We applaud your success as you choose personal freedom from those addictions and challenges in your lives.  We know the way is laced with great difficulty and the price you pay for this type of freedom is steep, but after the travail for freedom comes the triumph of your own independent liberty.  And that is also a freedom worth celebrating.


What Do We Do With Pain?

Let’s get one thing straight: we humans do not like to be in pain. It’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, and very often unbearable. Whether it’s physical aching, emotional grief, mental stress, spiritual wounding… nope. We don’t like it. Our world is full of it, and we’re well aware of this. Opening up our newsfeed, reading the paper, sitting with people in our own communities – it’s not difficult to find and experience the painful tension occurring around us.

Sure, some people appear to withstand pain longer than others, and we may perceive them to be stronger or more capable than us (which can be really motivating), but when it comes to our own pain, we usually do everything in our power to make it stop. We take a Motrin, eat some ice cream, walk the dog, have a drink, binge watch Netflix… to try and numb or dull the pain we experience.

To be clear, I’m not speaking about physical or emotional crisis or abuse. These are situations where immediate action needs to be taken. I’m speaking to the pain that lingers. This is the pain that won’t go away when we try to alleviate it by using a substance, avoiding it, or shoving it down into our gut.

But solving emotional problems with physical remedies doesn’t always work.

The problem of my pain comes when I don’t want to feel it, touch it, let it in, because, heaven forbid, it may take me out. It may level me. Also, if we haven’t been taught what to do with our pain and suffering, it may continue to follow us around for a while. From personal experience, this is utterly isolating and lonely.

The uncomfortable truth? Pain can actually be helpful. People who can’t feel physical pain get very sick and it’s quite dangerous to their health. People who don’t allow themselves to feel emotional pain actually dull themselves to things like happiness, joy, and gratitude. Feeling pain is the thing that causes us to know what it’s like to feel good.

So what do we do with our pain? It will always be with us and those around us. How do we engage with it in a healthy way?

I think this is where compassion and empathy come in. 

Compassion (n.) a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. [emphasis mine]

Empathy (n.) the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Both of these words imply some of sort of relationship. They require personal agency and another person. Both are utterly necessary for us to be fully human, and be better people.

We need compassion to move us to where there is pain in the world.

We need empathy to stay put when we get there.

Maybe we move to where there is pain in our own lives.

Maybe we start learning how to stay put once we get there.

Maybe this is what makes us strong.

As a therapist, I daily have to confront my own personal discomforts with pain and suffering to be able to sit in it with others. While confronting my pain is …painful, I’ve found it to be one of the most fulfilling and growth-inducing practices I do. And when I do it carefully, mindfully… the easier it can be for others to enter into their own.

The easier it is to be empathetic with ourselves, the easier it is to confront the pain in those we love. This is difficult, long-suffering work. But in the end, I think it makes us personally stronger and better humans to each other.


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Shining a Light on Gambling: The Hidden Addiction

What does problem gambling look like?

“Problem gambling, also known as gambling addiction or gambling disorder, occurs when a person is unable to resist impulses to gamble and continues to gamble despite harmful consequences. Gambling disorder is classified as an addiction and its essential features include loss of control over gambling, preoccupation with gambling, increasing need to bet more money, and an inability to stop or cut back gambling. In severe cases, gambling disorder can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career or family, and even suicide.” 

It is important to understand that gambling addiction impacts many aspects of the problem gambler’s life.  This includes the immense pressures that financial losses can bring about. Gambling can also result in time spent away from family and friends, a loss of interest in life activities, and an increased tolerance towards gambling (e.g., the need to bet more to gain the same excitement that was previously felt). The gambler will often feel compelled to lie and manipulate to conceal the extent of the gambling behaviors or losses. 

Looking at the impact of gambling on one’s mental health is critical because the negative impacts of gambling may challenge one’s ability to regulate emotions and mood, and limit one’s ability to disengage from a negative addictive cycle.  An increase in feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression can push one into greater isolation wherein gambling becomes the only focus, and the cycle begins again.  

Getting treatment to break the cycle of addictive behavior is essential to regain a sense of wellbeing in one’s life.  It is important to remember that addiction thrives in isolation. It is connection and relationships that make positive life change possible.  Reach out and make change a part of your life.

[1] McCown G., William and Howatt A., William: Treating Gambling Problems: Copyright 2007, John Wiley & Sons., Inc., Pages 4-6 

[2] Training material for CalGets Gambling addiction provider program “Individualized Treatment for Problem Gamblers.” 

Kids and Junk Food: 9 Ideas to promote healthy food choices with kids

Studies show that this generation of kids will not outlive the life-expectancy of their parents. With childhood obesity rates at 17%, one in six children are affected. Before we jump in too quickly to put all the blame on their parents, let’s take a look at this short 1½ -minute video about fast food marketing targeting children.

Big Burger is Watching: Fast Food Marketing Undermines Parents

Like the mom in this video, parents can’t follow their child around and shield them from every bit of advertising thrown at them. But what can they do to minimize the effects of fast food marketing on their kids and promote healthy eating habits?

Here are 9 Simple Ideas to Promote Healthy Eating:

1.       Start your child early on fresh vegetables and fruits. This can be difficult with picky eaters but not impossible with consistency. One couple uses a “token” system wherein their young children receive a token for every vegetable eaten with amazing results! The tokens can be exchanged for a small item at a toy or dollar store. Some may call this bribery but I think it’s just creative parenting.

2.       Have healthy snacks in the house: Fruit smoothies, salsa and chips, veggies and dip, hummus and crackers, bananas and peanut butter, yogurt without processed sugar (add your own stevia or fruits). Post on Facebook to ask what others are doing and share your ideas and commitment to healthier foods for kids.

3.       Limit access to junk food: Keep unhealthy foods out of your home. If it isn’t there, the kids will eventually stop asking for it. Consider fast food and treats as a “sometimes” food and not a regular stop.

4.       Plan ahead. If you are going to be carpooling your little soccer players around, plan to have some healthy afterschool snacks available in the car. This will eliminate the excuse to stop for a quick order of fries to tide them over until dinner.

5.       Set an example. Every day in America 50,000,000 people eat fast food. How is your fast food intake? If kids know you are eating out they may interpret this as “When I am grown up I am going to eat out whenever I want!” Probably not the message you want to give.

6.       Find a reward for good behavior that is not sugar. A trip to the library. A game with mom or dad. A sticker. No chores for a day. Pinterest has over 1000 ideas on how to reward kids.

7.       Comfort your child without using food. When comforting a child, talk to them in a loving, nurturing voice. This is how they will learn to self-soothe and regulate as future grownups rather than turning to food for comfort.

8.       Eat Dinner as a Family (and without electronics). Research shows children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, commit suicide, get pregnant or develop eating disorders. They also tend to have healthier eating habits. The amount of time children spend eating with their families is the single biggest predictor of academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. [1]

9.        Gear up for the complaints. You may get a push-back from the family at first but don’t give up. Change happens with consistency over time. Be positive, make it fun and they will thank you later (probably in their thirties).

While fast food marketing changes will take time, we as parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors can all work together to promote better health in our children through providing alternatives to junk food, setting a good example and through legislation. As a grandmother, I am recommitting to healthier snacks when the littles ones are with me. Will you join me?

[1] Jayne A. Fulkerson, Ph.D.a, , , Mary Story, Ph.D.b, Alison Mellin, Ph.D.b, Nancy Leffert, Ph.D.c,Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D.b, Simone A. French, Ph.D.b Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 39, Issue 3, September 2006, Pages 337–345

Taveras, E. M., Rifas-shiman, S., Berkey, C. S., Rockett, H. R., Field, A. E., Frazier, A. L., . . . Gillman, M. W. (2005). Family dinner and adolescent overweight. Obesity Research, 13(5), 900-906.